Ulster stars determined to make mark at Porto Box Cup

European silver medallist Fryers among High Performance squad bound for Portugal

Caitlin Fryers has sparred countless rounds with Daina Moorehouse, but the pair face off for the first time in a competitive fight in tonight's flyweight final. Picture by Mark Marlow
Immaculata's Caitlin Fryers is part of a talented Ulster squad bound for Portugal. Picture by Mark Marlow

AN 11-STRONG Ulster High Performance team is jetting out to Portugal for an international competition.

Heading up the team bound for the Porto Box Cup - which takes place from Wednesday until Sunday - is flyweight Caitlin Fryers, a European silver medallist in 2022.

The Immaculata woman is joined by Antrim’s Nicole Clyde, who represented Team NI at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, as well as a host of top talent who showcased their potential at the Ulster Elite Championships earlier this year.

Oakleaf pair Carleigh Irving and Jack Harkin are included in the squad, having impressed at Girdwood Community Hub on the way to first Ulster elite titles against Chloe Fleck and Matthew Boreland respectively, while fellow north-west boxer Danny Duffy also travels.

Star’s Louis Rooney, who just edged past Padraig Downey after a tight light-fly decider in January, has the opportunity to add to his burgeoning reputation on foreign shores, while 67kg finalists Cahir Gormley (Illies GG) and Gianni Richmond (Cairn Lodge) are both given the chance to impress.

Willie John McCartan, who spent some time with the Irish High Performance unit last year before defeating Tom Seaton in the Ulster elite final, will contest at super-heavy, while there are also calls for Emerald’s Courtney McCrudden, Clonard’s Caprice Coiley and Holy Family’s Garyn McAllister.

Jay Delaney, part of the Team NI coaching team at the last Commonwealths, is joined by Kilkeel’s Matthew Toner and Holy Family’s Kevin Morgan, with Aimee Shiels named team manager.

Unfortunately injury prevents Castleblayney’s Conor McKernan from travelling.

Louis Rooney (Star) celebrates capturing the Ulster light-fly title with victory over Padraig Downey (St John Bosco) on Friday night. Picture by Mark Marlow
Louis Rooney captured the Ulster elite light-fly title with victory over Padraig Downey back in January. Picture by Mark Marlow

The squad has been training together at Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus since February, and hopes to use the experience to its advantage.

Indeed, while one team leaves, another has returned from Lithuania in recent days.

Six boxers went out to the elite Socikas tournament in Kaunas, alongside coaches Jay Delaney, Paddy Barnes and Kevin Morgan.

Four-time Ulster elite champion JP Hale defeated England’s Joseph Tyres en route to claiming a silver medal, with a hand injury forcing the Star man out of Friday’s final.

Donagh Keary and Matthew McCole both brought home bronze after narrow semi-final defeats to Ukrainian opponents, with Rhys Owens coming up short against a Latvian lightweight as he also claimed a bronze medal.

Meanwhile, the Irish squad competing at the upcoming European Youth Championships – which includes Ballyclare’s Scott Thompson as well as coaches Ralph McKay (St Paul’s) and Liam Cunningham (Saints) – is currently in France for a training camp.

The Europeans take place in Croatia from April 4-15, but the Irish team will get some valuable preparation alongside the French side in Nancy until Thursday as the days count down to the opening bell in Porec.

Also next month, Irish fight fans will get to see some the country’s top elite stars in action when they take on Ukraine in a round-robin competition in Castlerea, Roscommon on Friday, April 5.

The High Performance unit, which hosted a coaching seminar in Belfast during squad training in Jordanstown in January, will host a second coaching seminar on April 1 as part of this international.

“Having boxing nations of Ukraine’s heritage and calibre come to Ireland to compete shows the strength of Irish Boxing, and the regard in which it is globally held,” said Irish High Performance director Tricia Heberle .

“We’re excited to bring boxing of this standard to the west of Ireland, and to the home town of double Olympian Aoife O’Rourke and her sister, 2022 World champion Lisa.”

“This is excellent preparation for our boxers for Paris, and for the next Olympic World Qualifier in Bangkok in May and the European Championships,” added head coach Zaur Antia.

“We learned much during our Busto Arsizio camp, and competing at home against Ukraine will help us to build on that learning, and to improve. Improvement, improvement, improvement – this is what drives Irish Boxing forward.

“That Ukraine is bringing their number ones in all Olympic weights shows the importance they place on competing against Ireland. These will be exciting events for our boxers, for their clubs and for their families.”